How realistic clouds will affect DCS: World
To say that the upcoming 2.7 update for DCS:World is one of the most anticipated ones that the simulator has ever received would be an understatement. I have not seen players this excited for a patch ever since the patch that brought in the new Eagle Dynamics Graphic Engine (EDGE) engine back in 2014. That is still one of the biggest leaps this program has received to date, alongside version 2.5 in 2018.
But even after the EDGE update and all of the 2.X updates until now, there was still a very visual reminder (not going to mention all of the inner workings of the sim) that we were still flying under the same skies as we have always been: the clouds. Despite all of the improvements that they had received, you could always tell that under it all they were still those same old clouds from almost (if not more than) a decade ago. All of that is set to change with the new clouds that are going to be implemented in eleven days as of the writing of this article, with the drop of update 2.7 for the sim. With these new volumetric and much more realistic clouds, I expect that a general change to the weather system is also coming.
Keep that in mind for the rest of this article as it will become important to comprehend some points. Also, keep in mind that I have not tried the clouds for myself and that I will have to assume some things for the sake of argumentation. Let's hope I am not proven wrong in two week's time.
CAREFUL FLYING AHEAD
Entering a storm should not be something that you do normally, yet, it is something I do constantly with the current DCS weather and clouds. If things change, this will no longer be an advisable thing to do if you value your aircraft or the time you have put into your flight. Avoiding dangerous clouds will become a normal thing to do, just like assessing the weather prior to and during your flight to see what will be needed to get from point A to point B in one piece.
There is also something that substantiates my thoughts in regards to this. A week or so ago RAZBAM posted a couple of teaser pics like they tend to do, but one of the screenshots caught my eye more than the others:
This is what, to my untrained eye, seems to be a weather radar display being implemented to the Mirage module. The fact that this feature is being added represents to me a bit of proof that weather conditions inside clouds will become more of a crucial aspect when it comes to flying in DCS: World.
COMBAT INCONVENIENCES AND NEW PLAYSTYLES
Another very important aspect that these new clouds will most likely change is combat strategies. Specifically, how players will both love and hate clouds in certain combat scenarios and mission types for a plethora of reasons.
Weather over the mission area will affect the way that players engage targets. Let's say that you are on a precision strike mission with GBU-12 bombs (laser guided munition) and the area is unexpectedly covered with thick clouds, making it difficult or outright impossible to get a visual on your targets. You would, at that point, have to fly lower than the clouds or you could rely on a JTAC unit to lase for you as you drop your bombs blind. In the future, interactions like this could also be done with the upcoming Kiowa module playing as a FAC for the fighters!
This would bring a completely different set of possible scenarios to the table, forcing the current playerbase to adapt and improve their combat strategies to fit the new aerial battleground. You will need to be more aware of your surroundings, cloud formations and how your enemies could use them against you.
I do expect clouds to be used as visual cover while dogfighting, particularly in World War 2 scenarios. Hiding behind the clouds to ambush an enemy flight could be very fun or scary depending on which side are you on. Oh, and these kinds of scenarios would be most likely only be useful on multiplayer scenarios as the AI will most likely be all-seeing through the clouds, just like it is right now. That being said, yesterday I had a very small exchange with Jon Coughlin, one of our readers who interacts frequently with us on Twitter. He brought up an interesting point: most public multiplayer session run on clear weather conditions because of the playerbase. While he is right in that point, I sincerely expect that mission creators will utilize the new clouds to provide much richer environments, and while they might not all be full overcast conditions, it is always good to have some clouds than to have none. Additionally, I think that the low quality of the old clouds contributed to their rejection, which is something that the new ones do not have.
IFR FLYING AND CONCLUSIONS
The last thing I expect clouds to impact is primarily low visibility and night flying. IFR flying has the possibility to become much more important than ever before. This might force some people to learn how to use TACAN stations to navigate and use their ILS systems on landing to ensure that their precious aircraft does not end up as a very expensive firework show.
From what I have always noticed in my years of flying sims, these systems are usually underutilized due to the fact that, as Jon said, most people prefer clear blue skies with no clouds, not even high altitude ones. I hope that with this update, more people will start using them to navigate through adverse weather and moon-less nights. To close this rather messy article, I wanted to share one last thing. A very dear friend of mine mentioned this quote from the great Antoine de Saint-Éxuperry which I think fits my feelings on the clouds both IRL and in-game perfectly:
Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing... But you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity.
Clouds might be beautiful things, floating with grace, but remember that they are treacherous and could hide your imminent death either behind or inside them. Stay safe, fly responsibly.
About the writer:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034